I was reading the very excellent Brain Pickings Weekly this weekend and there was a quote from The Writing Life by Annie Dillard that really caught my attention:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.
What a compelling and challenging consideration when we think about how we operate at work: how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. That each day we spend in the same way ultimately builds a pattern that we don’t see until we look back many years later. So many days in our workplaces can feel like drudgery, as though our goal is simply to survive it, to get from one meeting to the next, from one deadline to the next.
How sad and limiting it is to allow ourselves to see work in this way. To see our role as leaders as confined to schedules and metrics and deliverables. All necessary, yes. But is it the stuff of which you wish to build a life? Is it what you want to look back on and say you did with your precious time, with the precious people who you have the privilege to lead?
What are you doing today, right now, to build a pattern of meaning, of value, of joy in your work? How truly wonderful that we can seize this opportunity as leaders to create days that lead to lives filled with impact and contribution. How profound to realize that it doesn’t start tomorrow, or once we get that product release done, or as soon as things get a little less busy.
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It starts right now, in this moment, on this day. It starts with the way we treat each other, with the million little things we do as we move through our days. It starts with the choice to make it matter, to make our workplaces better.
Our workplaces are not separate from our lives, they are where we spend a vast amount of our lives. Together with these people that perhaps you didn’t choose to work with, you have the opportunity to build a pattern of meaning. To spend your workdays in a way that you will look back on and say “we did that, we made something that matters.”